Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight Michael Johnson has a mission statement for 2014.
"I want the title so if I could get exactly what I wanted, they'd offer me a fight with Pettis right now, but that's not going to happen, so I'll take Nate Diaz instead. I want to get these big fights lined up and I want to get in title contention and I want to get the belt as soon as possible."
Sounds simple enough right? "The Menace" already has the resume required to warrant such requests.
Johnson is already riding a two-fight winning streak against proverbial gatekeepers of the 155-pound division, defeating Joe Lauzon in a lopsided 30-25 decision victory at UFC Fight Night 26 in Boston and then knocking out Gleison Tibau at UFC 168 back in December.
"Yeah, that's what I am hoping for. You see a lot of guys in UFC that start trash talking or talk a bunch of smack and they'll get what they want. The way I am going about it, I'll ask them 'Hey I just beat two very tough guys now it's time for you guys to give me a step up in competition, let me prove myself to UFC that I can be in title contention and that I am gunning for the lightweight title. So, give me the top guys in this division.'"
But is Diaz one of the top guys in the division?
His most recent outing says so, as the Stockton, Calif., native ended his two-fight losing streak by dismantling Gray Maynard in their trilogy fight at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 Finale last month. But it's his mixed martial arts (MMA) community rep that draws the 27-year-old Johnson to the fight.
"All of the above. It's because he runs his mouth a lot and he is at the top of the division, by that I mean one of the better guys in the division. Stylistically, I think it fits for a hell of a fight. I think he is a guy I can definitely beat. He doesn't have too many holes in his game, but the holes he does I think I can expose them in the fight."
Johnson hopes that the tentative scheduling for the fight would fall somewhere "around April area or late March," and he would implore the same game plan he always does against a combatant known for his punching: standing and trading.
"Absolutely, that's the plan with everybody I fight, it's to stand right there and see if they can handle my stand up. If they can't take me down, they are definitely in trouble."
If Johnson continues bringing the heat as he has his last two outings, 2014 will be a tremendous year. I asked if he would resort to holding out for a title shot against an injured Anthony Pettis if the time called for such a choice.
"No, we are staying busy. We don't sleep around here man, we have missions we need to accomplish and we aren't going to rest until we get them and more."
By "we" he means his teammates at JACO Hybrid Training Center in Delray Beach, Florida. A squad who have experienced a streak of success not seen too often in MMA. I asked what in fact it is the Blackzilians are doing to see this amount of positive results.
"To us, it's not really anything different. We are doing the same thing we have always been doing, just working hard. We might have a different mindset about us but everything is just meshing real well between the coaches -- everyone on the team is getting along, it's just perfect."
So what if this plan falls through and Diaz is booked against another top lightweight or has another high school reunion to attend, would Johnson settle for a match-up against someone like Jim Miller?
"I definitely don't think he is below me, he is a great guy, we are just too close in the rankings. I want somebody who is at the top of the top -- some of those guys are already booked for fights and some of those fights I might not be able to get, but I feel like this Nate Diaz is a good one."
I think it's a good one, too.
Especially for Diaz, who is on the record saying he thinks those within the weight class should "work their way up." That's exactly what Johnson is trying to do, with the mindset and style of victory he has garnered as of late, I don't see the ascension ending any time soon.